Mary dropped out of school early and remembers being told she would amount to nothing if she didn’t apply herself. She felt always felt like an outsider, lacking a sense of belonging due to her family moving locations several times during her school years. Heading down a track of risk-taking behaviours she was very influenced by the people around her, and Mary found herself pushing the boundaries to get her ‘highs’ from dirt bike riding, reckless driving and other extreme sports.
Mary started competing in motocross racing and finished third place in her first national competition. She then went on to became a pioneer for women and world record holder in the sport of freestyle motocross. She was selected by the Crusty Demons to ride in their shows and become internationally known as 'Scary Mary' for the stunts she preformed on her dirt bike.
It was still hard for her to find that sense of belonging as there were very few girls into these risky activities that Mary found herself addicted to. "I had a lot of drive to prove myself being the first female to try freestyle motocross. Failure was my biggest fear" Mary remembers.
A turning point for Mary was was breaking both her legs in a training accident in 2009. This change of direction lead her to study counselling and using her experiences to influence young people in a positive way.
Joel’s story was similar. By virtue of circumstances his family relocated and Joel had to shift high schools. At this pivotal adolescent age of finding independence and identity, Joel also found himself dropping out of school without the education he was capable of and venturing into extreme sports to get his fix. But it was finding a group of peers, even though he was still on the fringes, that kept him from heading off track. He later met Mary and the two resonated with each other’s stories.
Knowing the rejection of not fitting in or belonging that Mary and Joel both experienced in their teenage year has now turned into their direction, to bring others into a sense of belonging. Understanding how critical it is to belong during the teenage years and the influence it has on one's life is what gives the couple their passion and high level of impact. This desire to gather young people together started with Encounter FMX Ltd, an events company and then later on Encounter Camps began, which is now under the Youth Encounter Ministries Trust charity organisation.
“Youth Encounter exists because we believe every person will encounter their God-given potential to live life wide open when they know they belong and believe in their true value.” - Mary and Joel
With approx 400 people engaging annually in the several different programmes the organisation offers, this dream of creating a space where young people can belong and live life wide open has become a reality for Mary and Joel. Not only does the organisation work with many at-risk youth, but also young people from more affluent homes who just need somewhere to belong.
Youth Encounter is a registered charity, fully funded by grants, generous sponsors, donations, fundraising events and our own social enterprise which operates specifically to raise funds. We currently have four staff and over 50 volunteers; Youth Encounter volunteers carry the same passion for seeing young people having a good time, finding their identity, being pushed outside their comfort zone and opening up to one another in a safe environment. Many of these volunteers have been impacted by Youth Encounter's programmes, growing up in this vibrant community throughout their teenage years. These volunteers now want to give back and be a leader, mentor and good example to other young people who are in a similar situation to where they once were.
"We create an environment that accepts young people where they are at with no agenda to change them, but rather unleash and release the incredible potential that they have been created with" - Mary